It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
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You can view our rankings for previous positions, and the dates future rankings will come out, by clicking the link to TDG’s 2017 Consensus Dynasty Baseball Rankings splash page. With that, it’s time to look at the stacked top-half of our dynasty shortstop rankings, beginning with… a third baseman?
1) Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 1st at 3B)
Fresh off a season where he set career-highs in home runs, RBI, and runs, Machado finds himself with the added benefit of SS eligibility heading into 2017. Thanks to an injured J.J. Hardy, Machado was able to play 45 games at shortstop, a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2012 when he was in the minor leagues. Though not the sublime defender he is at third base, his home run total of 37 puts himself in rarified air for a shortstop-eligible player. Since the year 2000 only Alex Rodriguez, who did it four times, has eclipsed the 37 home run mark while playing the game’s most glamorous defensive position.
All of this is great, but if you want to nit-pick, you can look to the fact that he will likely only have this eligibility though this season. The other factor which may give you some pause about his ranking is the fact that his stolen base total evaporated from 20 to 0 in just one season. Machado also walked less, made less contact, and had a slightly lower wRC+, though he did have his highest hard contact rate of his career. Things still look to be trending upward for this 24-year-old perennial MVP candidate but it’s not all gravy as usual.
2) Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 1)
Correa very quietly had quite a remarkable season last year and absolutely no one is talking about it. Maybe it was because of where he was drafted last season, in the first round–about seventh overall–in almost every draft. Maybe it was because what he did over 99 games during his debut season was just so remarkable we were all expecting an especially extraordinary in 2016. Despite not being otherworldly last year, Correa was still excellent, accruing 4.9 fWAR as a 21-year-old.
Going into his age-22 season, the 2015 Rookie of the Year will look to maintain his health on the way to an improved 2017 campaign. Although he played in 153 games in 2016, he was slowed by ankle and shoulder injuries. This cerebral youngster is a good bet to improve across the board over the next few seasons, and, if Manny Machado loses his shortstop eligibility, is very likely to reclaim the top spot on this list in 2018.
3) Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 4)
Wow! I have to say, I was not expecting that. Nope. Not one bit. Sure, I thought Seager would have a great year but jeez….the kid almost took down the National League MVP in his rookie season. This was not a Jose Abreu rookie situation, this was a 22-year-old kid coming in and destroying the league.
Kudos to Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman for not even entertaining the idea of trading this youngster in 2015 when rumors were abound. At a very solid 6’4”, many scouts thought this guy was going to have to move to third, though he looks to have shortstop eligibility locked down for a long time. Seager should only improve as the years go on, leaving his leading 137 wRC+ as an attractive…starting point for what could be a fantasy career for the ages.
4) Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 2)
In 2014, Bogaerts couldn’t hit the breaking ball and was exploited by big league pitchers. He was stuck hunting for fastballs and only managed a .240 batting average with 12 home runs, still a solid mark for a 21-year-old rookie. In 2015, Bogaerts shored up this weakness, taking a more contact-heavy approach and batted an outstanding .320/.355/.421. The near-slap-hitting strategy cost him power, though, with just seven dingers. Bogaerts took another step in his evolution during 2016, slashing .329/.388/.475 in the first half with a 131 wRC+, along with plenty of power.
Alas, things went south in the second half. A secret to his success prior to the All Star Break was a .369 BABIP, which dropped down to .290. His wRC+ fell as well, down to 92, though the overall numbers from 2016 were still impressive. Bogaerts recorded career bests in home runs, RBI, runs, and stolen bases, all while walking more than ever before. His slash line of .294/.356/.446 justified all the hype he had pre-season and his 21 home runs gave us an idea of his power upside. Bogaerts will look to continue his steady improvements in 2017 and in any given year has the talent to grab the top spot on this list.
5) Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 5)
Francisco Lindor, asset with the bat! There’s a line I never thought I would write. Consider me a skeptic but, to be fair, I wasn’t the only one. Even after what we saw in 2015 over 99 games, many did not believe Lindor would consistently be a real fantasy weapon at shortstop. Boy, were we wrong. In 2016, Tito moved Lindor from second in the order to third and let him mash. Lindor was excellent, contributing in every meaningful category…even smashing 15 home runs.
While I think he is at his current power ceiling, there is no reason why he can’t sustain that mark and potentially have a year or two when he runs into an extra five taters. From 2015-2016, Lindor managed to also cut his strikeout rate and improve his plate discipline, while also making more hard contact than ever before. Now with Edwin Encarnacion and a (hopefully) healthy Michael Brantley behind him in the batting order, things could only get better.
6) Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 6)
And here we are, we have finally arrived at the drop off. The first five of this group are absolute fantasy studs, guys who you draft and set in your lineup without so much as a second look. In Russell, we have a player with the potential to join that elite category, but with some current issues that need to be ironed out. 2016 was overwhelmingly positive for Russell. You may have even heard that his team won the championship and broke some old curse or something. He even had some personal growth of his own.
After two years in the majors, a low batting average and on-base percentage are still issues that plague Russell. Still, he’s just 23 and rushed to the majors, and offers outstanding power potential. He’s continually improved, chopping his strikeout rate from 28.5% in 2015 to 22.6% and raising his walk rate by a point, all while making more contact and hard contact. Progress! We also saw him take huge jumps ahead in the home run and RBI departments, and could finally raise his average next season to make him an elite fantasy player.
7) Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 44)
Well this is quite surprising! I wasn’t expecting to see you here Mr. Villar. Truthfully, I kinda thought you would be struggling to find a path to regular playing time and using up the rest of your minor league options. Instead, you were the number one fantasy shortstop on ESPN’s player rater. How about that? The Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl and Jon Villar: number one fantasy shortstop. Who said the American dream was dead?
Villar is the elder statesman of this top ten at the wise old age of 25. So, youth is on his side, as is multi-positional eligibility. Villar expects to open up the season as the starting second baseman for the Brew Crew, making him a flexible player you can plug virtually anywhere in your infield. The biggest question, keeping him from being even higher on this list, is the sustainability of his monster 2016. While that HR/FB rate of 19.6% is going to drop, his profile means that last year’s .373 BABIP could remain high. With that in mind, Villar should be able to remain solid in the batting average department, while pitching in 40 to 50 stolen bases with at least double digit home runs, and that’s, well, pretty damn good.
8) Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 21)
Just two years after being picked first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt, Swanson is taking the reins at shortstop for the foreseeable future. His rise through the minors was swift, and Swanson carried his impressive patience and polish into the big leagues. While the league is bound to adjust, Swanson has the tools to adjust back and become a .300 hitter some day with a very usable amount of power and speed.
This shiny new player retains his rookie eligibility in 2017 just as the Braves open up their new digs, Sun Trust Park. Early estimates say that Swanson is likely to open the season batting second, right in front of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. In this company, Swanson could enjoy a fairly productive rookie season and should see plenty of pitches to hit. The ceiling for Swanson is likely a .300 20/20 guy with strong OBP. I would bet it take about three seasons for him to get there, but the tools are all in the chest.
9) Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 11th at 2B)
Cubs’ fans are really spoiled. World Series champs, Kris Bryant, Theo Epstein, Anthony Rizzo, Joe Maddon, Jon Lester, Jake Arietta, and two shortstops in the top ten on our dynasty ranks. Sure, Baez isn’t likely to play shortstop, but he’ll maintain this eligibility for at least another season. If he does move off the position for good, Baez should still play first, second, third, and the outfield, offering incredible flexibility.
Baez is both versatile and skilled, and the only thing holding him back is the Cubs’ crowded depth chart which doesn’t offer him clear playing time. Still, Joe Maddon’s creativity should afford him enough playing time to allow his huge power and solid speed to eventually shine. There’s plenty of risk given his very poor strikeout-to-walk ratio, but progress has been made and will continue to be. Baez is getting better and remains capable of All Star seasons if he continues to improve. After some turbulence over the past couple seasons, the arrow could be pointing upward here for good.
10) Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 14)
Taken third overall in the same draft as Swanson, Rodgers was the higher-ceiling prep guy that Colorado couldn’t help dreaming on. The profile for high school hitters is risky, but with the bat speed, hit tool, and raw power that Rodgers had, it was too hard to pass up. Early results have been mostly good with solid numbers at Low-A Asheville last year, where he swatted 19 home runs. He will look to build on his success at High-A in 2017 at just 20-years-old.
The prospect of this young, power hitting shortstop playing his home games at Coors Field is what really makes fantasy owners drool. He is still likely three years away from his first full-season in the big leagues, but if his development continues to be positive, .280 and 30 home runs in his prime is not out of the question. There are some who doubt his ability to stay at short long term, but he does have the arm for third base, and the bat would certainly play there.
11) Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 3)
The number one shortstop in these rankings two years ago, the fall down to the 11 spot has been a bit bumpy for Tulo. The biggest culprit to Tulo’s declining value looks to be his batting average, as since being traded to Toronto in the middle of the 2015 season, he has batted a combined .250. In his heyday, Tulo approached .300 each and every season, and his counting stats looked better in unison with that higher average. Whether it be injuries or a lack of Coors Field, this is simply not the same player who was the number one guy in the 2015 rankings. No longer quite so dependable and still every bit as fragile, Tulo’s not nearly as appealing in fantasy as he used to be, though his single-season upside rivals anyone on this list.
12) Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 27)
If you want the representation of an inconsistent start to a career, Jean Segura may be your guy. It’s hard to believe he’s still 26, and he hit a peak last year when he led the National League in hits to go along with a career-high 20 home runs. This offseason, he was traded to Seattle, a major downgrade in terms of ballpark for a hitter from his previous digs in Arizona. Besides the slight downtick because of that ballpark change, however, you should be all in on Segura. His struggles after his strong 2013 season can be partially attributed to the extremely tragic passing away of his son in July 2014. Without his mind in the game, I suspect he would have struggled. Segura’s ability has never been in doubt, and there is no reason to think that he can’t put up similar numbers to last year, save for power. If others want to sell because he moved to Seattle, you should gladly buy.
13) Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 20)
This guy played 97 games in his rookie season and hit 27 home runs. His OPS was .909. Could you consider some of that Coors inflated? Sure, but he’s also not leaving Coors anytime soon. Story has the potential to hit close to 40 home runs with some speed at a premium position, an upside that could land him in the top-5 of this list if he meets it next season. I’d say that’s a guy worth targeting in your dynasty league, especially since I haven’t even mentioned yet that he’s 24.
14) Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 8)
If you’re risk-averse, Brandon Crawford is the route to go. You can expect upwards of 80 runs batted in, along with double digit homers and relatively low strikeout totals, from Brandon Crawford. There is still a bit of a bias against him from the days that he was glove-only and not at all worth owning for fantasy purposes, but he has turned himself into a starter-quality shortstop. He doesn’t have a ton of long-term upside, but he keeps improving, so he’s not devoid of it either. You can feel safe picking up Brandon Crawford for your squad; you also start well on the path to your team having the best flow in your league.
15) Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 18)
For the risk-happy, Tim Anderson is the route to go. His strikeout-walk stats last year were as follows: 117 strikeouts to only 13 walks, that all coming in 99 games. He struck out more than once a game and barely walked; his OBP was only .306. However, it has always been about power and speed with Anderson; he hit 9 home runs and stole 10 bases in his action last year, and has the potential for more, 15/15 or 20/20, as he matures. Anderson is the type of guy you should target if you’ve already got a shortstop you trust. As a starting shortstop, Anderson is a huge risk, but as a guy waiting in the wings, you’ve got a solid option to step in should he reach his full potential.
16) Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: NR)
Aledmys Diaz was never supposed to be able to hit, as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t even find himself in the top 50 last offseason. However, a .300 batting average, .369 OBP, and 17 home runs will change things, and if anything this ranking is a bit low. It all depends if you believe in Diaz; if you do, you should pursue him aggressively, because those are some seriously strong numbers. There is reason to be skeptical, as no scout ever thought Diaz had this in him, but he’s a strong looking kid with a fast bat and a smooth swing, and he should be able to at least partially replicate these good numbers. His cost still might be somewhat low, so check in and see if you can get a starting shortstop on the cheap.
17) J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 11)
I, for one, have never been sure what to make of J.P. Crawford. It’s clear that Crawford will provide more value for his real-life team rather than for what he provides for our fantasy teams. However, I’ve also seen him play, and I’ve seen a very athletic guy with all the casual movements of a star in the making. The name that keeps coming to my head is Francisco Lindor, whose numbers screamed that he wouldn’t hit but whose movements screamed that he would. While Crawford isn’t a guy I’d be buying, I probably wouldn’t trade him either, as I’d rather wait it out than figure out I got ripped off for a superstar.
18) Amed Rosario, New York Mets (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 47)
If I had to pick one guy outside of the top-ten on this list who could occupy a top-five spot next year, it would be Amed Rosario. In 2016, he hit .309 at High-A and, upon promotion, hit .341 at Double0A. While only hitting 5 homers combined, everyone says he has the body that will grow into power; it might not even matter if he keeps his batting average where it is. I’m not sure if I’ve read anything but rave reviews of Rosario anywhere on the internet, which is almost impossible when you consider the way people like to spew their minds online. Honestly, if you’re still reading this, you must have missed my first sentence of this blurb; go read it again, go trade for Rosario, and just thank me later.
19) Franklin Barreto, Oakland A’s (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 24)
There’s some thought in scouting circles that Franklin Barreto will soon be an outfielder, not because of his ability but because Oakland may need him in the outfield sooner; he’s certainly ready at the dish. 94 strikeouts last year in 479 at-bats, mostly in Double-A, is an awfully impressive tally for a 20 year old who hit 25 doubles and 10 homers in that same Double-A stint. Another player who exhibits potential for more power, Barreto is a bat you already wouldn’t mind having in your lineup, and can’t even drink alcohol in this country yet. This is another guy I would be all-in on.
20) Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 28)
Some of you out there may have read the first sentence to Amed Rosario’s paragraph and assumed I was talking about this guy. I wasn’t, as I am not quite as high on Torres as most, but you can certainly see him oozing potential as well. Bat speed, foot speed, and a baseball body that would make the old-school scouts drool are some of Torres’ biggest calling cards. I just worry about his propensity to strike out a bit much, even in just High-A, where he spent all of last season. Talent will shine through, and I expect Torres to become a good player, but he offers more real-life than fantasy-value, which is why this consensus top-10 prospect won’t make the top-15 on this list.
Comments by Jake Devereaux and Billy Heyen